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Vatican Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the Vatican, also known as the Holy See, the spiritual and governing center of the Roman Catholic Church


The full name of the country is State of Vatican City.

It stands on Vatican Hill in northwestern Rome, Italy west of the Tiber River. It is comprised of roughly 100 acres.

Tall stone walls surround most of Vatican City.

Historical documentation says that St. Peter was crucified at or near the Neronian Gardens on Vatican hill and buried at the foot of the hill directly under where the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica now stands. Excavations at the basilica between 1940 and 1957 located the tomb believed to be St. Peter’s.

Vatican City has its own pharmacy, post office, telephone system and media outlets. The population is 1,000 (2022 est.)

The Vatican is an absolute monarchy. Full legislative, judicial and executive authority resides with the pope.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The world’s second-largest Christian church after the Yamoussoukro Basilica in Cote d’Ivoire. St. Peter’s is not a cathedral, which is a bishop’s principal church. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and his cathedral church is in Rome.

Built on the foundation of the first St. Peter’s, the new basilica took 120 years to complete. Masonry, sculpture, painting and mosaic work continued for nearly 200 years.

The dome of the basilica was designed by Michelangelo.

The church is shaped like a cross and is almost 650 feet long.

In the grottoes, beneath the basilica, is a papal burial chamber.

Vatican Palaces

The Vatican Palaces consist of several connected buildings with over 1,000 rooms. Within the palaces there are apartments, chapels, museums, meeting rooms and government offices.

The Palace of Sixtus V is the pope’s residence.

The Vatican museums, archive, library, gardens and other offices make up the remainder of the palaces.

The Sistine Chapel

A separate structure from the basilica, designed for the papal court, was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere.

It is the site of the papal conclave and where elections for the new pope are held.

It is one of the world’s most famous galleries of biblical art with the ceiling by Michelangelo, tapestries by Raphael and Rosselli’s Last Supper.


320s – Construction begins on the first St. Peter’s, by order of Constantine the Great.

1473-1481 – The Sistine Chapel is constructed.

April 18, 1506 – Pope Nicholas V begins rebuilding and expanding St. Peter’s Basilica.

1508-1512 – Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

February 11, 1929 – The signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy establishes Vatican City State, the smallest independent nation in the world, covering only 109 acres.

June 7, 1929 – The Treaty of the Lateran is ratified. Pope Pius XI gives up all claims to the Papal States, and Italy agrees to the establishment of the independent State of Vatican City.

October 11, 1962-November 21, 1964 – The 21st Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church, known as Vatican II, is held under orders of Pope John XXIII. The council included 2,700 clergymen from all walks of Christiandom looking to improve relations with the Catholic Church. By the end of the council there is a new pope, Paul VI, a new constitution for the Church and new reforms.

June 2011 – Pope Benedict XVI sends the first Vatican tweet announcing the opening of a news site, “Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”

October 6, 2012 – The pope’s former butler Paolo Gabriele is convicted of aggravated theft for leaking confidential papal documents and sentenced to 18 months in prison. In December 2012, Gabriele is pardoned by the pope and released to his family.

November 10, 2012 – Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer technician, receives a two-month suspended sentence for leaking Vatican secrets to the media.

May 2013 – Missio, a smartphone app, is launched by Pope Francis. The app provides Catholic news from the Vatican and around the world.

November 24, 2013 – The Vatican exhibits the bones of a man long believed to be St. Peter, one of the founding fathers of the Christian church, for the first time.

January 10, 2019 – The Holy See launches its official athletics team after receiving the blessing of the Italian Olympic Committee. Among the first members of the Vatican Athletics track team are nuns, priests, Swiss Guards, museum workers, carpenters and maintenance workers.

March 2, 2020 – The Vatican opens its secret archives containing World War II-era documents from the controversial papacy of Pope Pius XII.

December 24, 2020 – Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the pope holds a sparsely attended Christmas Eve mass with only 200 people in attendance, including 30 cardinals. The Christmas Eve mass, which usually attracts up to 10,000 people, is a landmark event in Vatican City.

July 3, 2021 – The Vatican releases a statement saying that it has indicted 10 people, including an Italian cardinal, for several alleged financial crimes including extortion, corruption, fraud, forgery, embezzlement and abuse of power. The investigation, which started in July 2019, was carried out by the Vatican in cooperation with Italian authorities and revealed “a vast network of ties between financial market operators who generated substantial losses for the Vatican finances.”

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